Monday, March 30, 2009

Why we need volcano monitoring

While I understand that many other people have already taken Gov. Bobby Jindal's speech to bits, including his apparent belittling of volcano monitoring, but I just wanted to add some visuals to why it is a comment that is more than a little dull-headed.

Vesuvius erupting (1872)

Mount St. Helens Eruption (1980)
Mount Redoubt eruption (2009)
Yellowstone Supervolcano (future eruption)

One could make the point that so-called "pork barrel" spending is bad business in Washingon. However, it accounts for a vanishingly small percent of government spending, and acts as a convenient canard against which to rail when making blinkerdly silly comments about spending and budgets. When will politicians learn to actually investigate what the "pork barrel" project is supporting (and have a staffer do some research into the topic, if they don't know what it is) than just saying something that - at the moment - might sound funny or degrading, but - in balance - only acts as a shovel to dig a deeper hole? Does this all play into the larger question of the divide between people's popular understanding of science, and what scientists actually do? Is this a question of tapping into people's resentment of government "meddling"? Is it anti-science?

Surly it cannot be the last one, since (it is my belief) that people in the United States readily understand that there are benefits of science. (You are - for example - reading this because of several benefits of science.) I feel, though, that it is a question of resenting government "meddling", especially tapping into deep-seated fear and loathing about the government's ability (some say unconstitutional ability) to tax its citizens. However, that is a topic for a different blog post.

The DOT will run heath care???

Sometimes political cartoons are good. Other times, they just fall flat on their faces. Take this one, for example:

First, its message is not precise: The "folks who run our transportation arteries" are the various Departments of Transportation (and possibly Departments of Motor Vehicles). It is inconceivable that the DOT will be put in charge of health care. Of course, if the message is, "Government: Keep out of our bodies!" or "Government: We don't want socialized health care!" then that could make a little more sense on the sentiment. However, if closer to the latter, it then becomes somewhat of a case of knee-jerk libertarianism. Let me explain:

One of the problems with the idea of government keeping out of public life is that we would unlikely have such things as the interstate system that we today take for granted. The massive public subsidies have created both good (the interstates) and bad (massive traffic problems caused by increased use of interstates) outcomes. However, if the interstate and state highway systems were not subsidized by government, then the cost of travel and interstate commerce would increase. (Note: the states cannot tax interstate commerce, but they could charge tolls on roads, thus increasing the cost of travel.) Many people who are anti-government/pro-free market conveniently forget this point.

Finally, as a bumper sticker, proposing no alternative to the [perceived] status quo (or future) is okay, since the point of a bumper sticker is to get a POV across while remaining legible by the person tailgating you through morning and afternoon traffic. This bumper sticker fails the pithy-and-legible test that most bumper stickers must pass.

Now, looking at the overal tenor of the piece, the car is a massive piece-of-work. Is this saying something about the state of the American auto industry, or is it a visual necessity in order to have a bumper larger than the driver's head in order to put on that not-at-all pithy nonsensical statement?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Lights out here in SagFor

Last night was a lights out for the planet. Although I thought that it would be good to burn some of the wood I was cutting, that didn't turn out to be such a good option (still too wet to burn easily).
Anyway, with all the lights out, I lit the candles in the fireplace. A nice candle-lit glow, no?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Why engineers need to think outside their box.

Via EcoGeek:
Following up on a story we brought to you a couple of months ago, the iron fertilization project in the South Atlantic Ocean has not produced the results expected by researchers.

To recap, the project by British scientists aimed to increase the amount of carbon dioxide-absorbing algae in the ocean off of South Georgia Island by adding extra iron to the water. Ideally, the extra algae would remove a large chunk of CO2 in the atmosphere and then sink far below the surface, permanently sequestering the CO2.

As expected, great amounts of algae did bloom, but there was an unexpected glitch. Instead of the algae sinking to the bottom of the ocean, they were eaten by copepods, which were then eaten by amphipods, which meant a lot less CO2 was absorbed and sequestered than thought.

Basically, the CO2 that was removed was "almost negligible" as one researcher put it. I guess it's back to the drawing board.
True, if this worked, it would have been awesome! I mean: "add iron to water, decrease atmospheric CO2". What's there not to like? However, what engineers didn't take into account was ... biology (well, technically ecology). Unfortunately, you can't go out and convince the amphipods to not do what they do when food is around; the world is not a labratory condition.

What is "wrong" with Dyson's perspective on climate change?

A friend sent me this article from the NYTimes Magazine Preview: "The Civil Heretic", and asked:
why do some very smart people (although I always thought Dyson had some wacko sides, but let's leave it aside) think global warming is BS? How do we counter that?
Well, I think that Dyson is too much of an optimistic futurist. The man is someone who worships at the altar of technology, bows to the god of innovation, and likely worships in the same vein as science-fiction writers who see a utopian vision of the future. I would say that although Dyson is a fantastic physicist, he is not a climate change scientist, and therefore what he is doing is not climate change science, but climate change issue advocacy. Now, a scientist in the field can be involved in advocating a position on the topic (thus making him a climate-change-science issue advocate), but Dyson is not such a man. Therefore, I think that his presumptions are based on his vast knowledge together with his idea of an unlimited near-future in which humans live.

We can't counter that.

I, on the other hand, love dystopianism. To hate the idea of dystopian futures only makes for a really unhappy environmental scientist engaged in climate change science and/or issue advocacy. (Note: I don't say that I would prefer a dystopian future, but that ideas of dystopian futures does not dog my cheerful outlook on life; some call me a happy cynic and others just call me strange.) I am not a climate change scientist. I work with some, I work with many others who interpret the science using objective measures and provide advice/advocate positions.

My peers tend to be closer to my POV (i.e., films like 12 Monkeys, Mad Max, the Postman, Waterworld, and Escape from NY/LA) than that of Dyson (i.e., films like The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, Star Trek, Metropolis, and Star Wars). Of course, there are people who like something that is not-quite-utopian (i.e., films like Gattaca, AeonFlux, and Equilibrium) or not-quite-dystopian (i.e., films like Brazil or eXitenz). (NOTE: these categories are quite broad, and I do like many of the films I listed as utopian, but I like the dystopian ones more; I just like SciFi.)

In addition to the POV issue, Dyson is also stuck somewhere between the idea that the scientific consensus on global warming is up-for-debate (e.g., like creationists keep claiming evolution to be) and the idea that this is a moral question. This creates two other issues that are psychological in nature. The first is that if a scientist finds him/herself in such a situation, especially if no immediate consequence of inaction is seen, that scientist is tempted to not act, because:

  • There is no reason to act to change a course of events that can be gleefully studied (why else do people become scientists?);
  • Acting to change the course of events runs counter to a scientific mentality that worships observation and testing as opposed to prevention (which would only have the end result in removing that thing which scientists gleefully like to do: study the phenomenon); and
  • The longer one waits, the more data can be used to bring to bear on the topic at hand, since a lot of science is inherently backward-looking (i.e., based on observations of prior tests);
Note that I'm not putting anything in here about the possibility that Dyson has his own axe to grind on this topic.

How can we counter Dyson? We can't because by the time we see incontrovertible evidence of global warming, he will likely be long-dead. You cannot change his point-of-view. Furthermore, because of the long time-periods involved with global warming (versus the relatively short time-periods of human consciousness and understanding), people will have a shifted baseline of expectation vis-a-vis what a climate "should" look like, based on their own life experiences (since one cannot personally experience the lives of our forebears), which makes me pessimistic about future "visceral" (as opposed to learned/taught) understandings. The easiest thing to do would be to make him a non-entity in the debate; to sideline him into non-existence. This is what people have tried to do with ad hominem attacks (he's a kook, he's over-the-hill, etc.), mostly without success, since physicists (who make up a large percentage of the climate modelers) still tend to worship at the altar of Dyson. A more likely tactic is to change the frame of the debate away from what Dyson is perceived of as an expert; to social impacts, for example. I'm sure that to many American social scientists, the name "Dyson" only means vacuum-cleaner.

Of course, like a lot of my drivel on this blog, I could well be wrong about one, some, or all parts of this entry. (Well, perhaps not "all" parts of this entry, since I do like the films I listed.)

On a side note, I wonder how many scientists in different fields "believe" in the veracity of global warming science. Are there trends in this "belief" as one saw in scientist belief in creationism and Bible literalism...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Saginaw Forest blog

To my few readers:

I have created another blog that is an account of some of my activities as caretaker of the Sagnaw Forest property west of town.

The blog URL is:

I usually post one or more entry each week about goings on at the forest, including whatever maintenance I'm doing, what classes are doing, etc. Hopefully this will allow me to keep separate the themes of this blog ( and the other one.


Photos from Wagner (west of town)

Who says that Michigan doesn't have solar power? A laughably small array of solar panels. This is right next to the anonymous 1901 South Wagner property. As you can see from the map, there isn't much of the property that is covered with solar panels. The terrain at that point slopes slightly to the south and east, and there aren't tall trees on the opposite side of the road, meaning that this solar array could be much bigger than it is presently.
One thing I really like about the Midwest are all of these big red barns that still dot the countryside. This one is located right next to the Washtenaw Intermediate School District buildings. Although it is located across the street from farm fields, and there are tire tracks leading up to and through the barn doors, I don't think there's a lot of farm equipment in there; perhaps some lawn-care equipment (e.g., riding mowers) and the like for the soccer field next to the WISD buildings.
Some erosion of the Quaternary geology that forms much of Michigan's lower peninsula, hiding the bedrock under meters of glacial deposits. However, this quarry (behind the Fendt Builders Supply) seems, for now at least, to be not in operation.
 Another shot from the quarry site. Here, though, it looks like there is a lot of discarded concrete that is scattered about. One wonders whether these are being stored here for eventual recycling, or if this is the quarry slowly being re-filled with concrete from demolitions in the city. If the former, then there is a lot of concrete that can potentially be re-used. If it's the latter, then it is at least a good thing to put all the concrete in one place so that in the future, if concrete recycling becomes much cheaper, this quarry can shift from a storage site to a processing facility.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Campus directions

How many times have you been the person in green? How many times have you been (or wanted to be) the person in black? Walking around UofM's campus (especially during the summer), one gets many opportunities to be the man in black. Unfortunately (for those of us who want to be that guy) or fortunately (for those of us who hate people being that guy), mobile internet and Google maps (and equivalent software) make such wanderings less likely, since you can get the street address from online (thanks to your mobile internet device) as well as driving (or sometimes walking - thank you Google maps) directions from where you are (if you happen to know the cross-streets or address of your starting location) to your destination (assuming that it is located any where need the street address).

Here are two (of many) examples of how street addresses and actual locations don't really correspond at the University of Michigan's Central Campus.

The School of Natural Resources and Environment is not physically located on Church Street. The address was changed from "East University Ave" to "Church Street" a few years ago, when the Post Office declared that East University Avenue didn't exist north of South University. (East U was called that because it used to be the street running along the eastern side of the campus, way back in the mid-1900s. It was pedestrianized over the previous decades, and now the only vehicular access to it is via an alleyway located just south of where the Google "A" is located.) Furthermore, although North University is technically "closer" to the building, the main entrance (which used to face East U) faces Church Street, thus 440 Church Street.

Here is the non-juxtaposition of the street address and the actual location of the Graduate Library. No strange weirdness here. Just an extrapolation of the final point from above: the library "faces" North University, thus it gets an address of "North University", even though is it much closer to South University (especially if you consider that the stacks (the building immediately to the south of the one with the arrow pointing to it) is also considered part of the Grad Library... Still, one gets the address of the street one faces. (Usually... since the Center of African and Afro-American Studies, located in Haven Hall -- which faces into the Diag -- has an address on State Street not Church.)

What to do with fairy tales and technology?

The story of Little Red Ridinghood like you've never seen it before.

SlagsmÄlsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Strange juxtapositions

Sometimes I see interesting juxtapositions in the newspaper. Like this one of smiling female underwear models showing up next to a picture of the pope. ...And the pope almost looks like the models' crotches are at the eye-level of the pontiff, too...

I don't know if this is something that an editor actually checks on, but I'm sure that if I find this slightly humorous, then some Catholics might find this offensive...

Friday, March 20, 2009

Silly comparisons

Of course, there are also some other problems that come out in the publication. The article on the right states:
The original 1908 Model T sported wood wheels and a fabric roof and could sputter up to 45 miles an hour. The typical SUV of today takes less than 10 seconds to hit 60 m.p.h., even as it weighs four times more.
Notice that the opening paragraph sets up a strawman right from the get-go. The Model-T is portrayed as quaint ("sported wood wheels") and obsolete ("sputter up to 45 miles an hour"), even spelling out "miles an hour", like spelling out an acronym is old-fashioned. On the other hand, the SUV is portrayed as being able to reach a speed that far-exceeds what the Model-T did, and in "such little time", even though SUVs are much heavier. Of course, the entire first paragraph says nothing about the topic of this blurb: "Fuel-efficiency myth".

On the Freep website, Hyde continues with the following:
What remains unclear is how it makes sense to compare a fabric-roofed, four-seat car to a seven-passenger truck stuffed with high-tech accoutrements.
Ummm.... Well, that's pretty easy. You take a popular car model/type from 1908 (a Model T) with one from 2008 (SUVs). The point of comparison is not what the "accoutrements" are in the Model-T vs the SUV, but that after 100 years, one would expect a little bit more improvement. This comparison also tacitly touches on the question of, "How did we get here?" with "here" being a street culture, trucks getting bigger, commuter villages, and comfort over utility (especially in the so-called sports utility vehicle). Of course, this point is a place where Hyde could have taken the road less-traveled in Detroit: to question the status quo of motor vehicle ownership, the car-culture, etc. ... but no. Hyde concludes with the following amazing piece of logical discontinuity:
When adjusted for their massive differences in weight using the government’s formulas, today’s typical SUV is about five times more efficient than the Model T.
Hyde, there is a difference between comparisons on paper, where you can do this sort of mathematical simplification, and the physical world, where net fuel economy is the major point of contention; the thing that impacts real people. Who cares that today's SUVs are 5x more fuel efficient if you normalize by weight? What Hyde is saying is that a Model-T's fuel economy is 80 pounds/mpg, while the average SUV's fuel economy is 255 pounds/mpg. Although this is mathematically correct (if you divide through by the values given in the article), the concept of measuring fuel economy as pounds/mpg is laughable. Laughable because if you did this sort of comparison with the expectations of the 2010 model Toyota Prius:

Weight: 2975 pounds
Fuel economy: 50 mpg
2975 pounds/50 mpg = 59.4 pounds/mpg

Oh my god! The SUV has a better Hyde fuel economy than a Prius! Can you believe it!!! WOW! The "average" SUV has a fuel economy of 255 lbs/mpg, and the 2010 Prius is only 59.4 lbs/mpg. Hell, even the Model-T has a better Hyde-fuel-economy at 80 lbs/mpg! Those damn lefties tree-huggers making negative claims about SUVs...
Oh, wait... That doesn't make sense!!! A unit like lbs/mpg is as useful a measurement of fuel economy as GDP/CO2 is a measurement of CO2 emissions.

Woke up to this

I really like this piece (and many of Beethoven's piano pieces -- not such a big fan of his symphonies), and this rendition of it is not only visually appealing, but also very emotive. Enjoy.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Videos about why science is important

Why we need to teach evolution from National Center for Science Ed. on Vimeo.

Why is Science Important? from Alom Shaha on Vimeo.

Pretty nice door

Although I have to walk outside to use my privvy-shed, I do have a nice scene to look at -- all the postcards that people have sent to Saginaw Forest over the years.

If you want to have a postcard pinned onto a wall (or the door) with all the other postcards that have been posted over the years, send me one at:

Saginaw Forest
3900 W. Liberty Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103

Cabella's mountain of taxidermy

For those of you not familiar with the Cabella's store in Dundee, MI, then you may well never have thought of the possibility of the existence of a mountain of taxidermy, let alone a mountain of taxidermy situated (literally) in the middle of an outdoors-store as big as a WalMart (but with massive timber columns supporting a cupola -- instead of a flat roof).

The juxtaposition of stuffed animals (with name-boards a la natural history museum) against racks of shirts and trousers, and the "gun library" in the background is still jarring each time I see it. Even from the "Carnivore Cafe" on the second floor, or from the "outdoors motif" furniture section (yes, you can purchase a massive arm chair covered with flannel), customers can still see the bighorn sheep at the top of the impossibly impossible faux mountain (complete with a "waterfall" emanating from the top of the "mountain", and fake pines growing straight out of fake rock).

Why was I at the Dundee Cabella's? Well, because the Michigan chapter of the American Fisheries Society was having its annual meeting and conference there. Although I did not present, there were many presentations that were very interesting and useful for my own understanding of things. (Plus, holding it at Caballa's meant that the registration cost was quite low, since -- I think -- Cabella's probably charged AFS Michigan only a nominal fee sine they were likely expecting that many conference-goers would purchase stuff in the store.) The only thing I purchased (other than registration fees) was a late lunch on Day 1 (a smoked elk sandwich and a salad), but I was eyeing some of the merchandise on sale...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Burning willow

I burned the willow that was piling up before the rain forecasted for tomorrow... and that flame was big.

St. Patrick's Day

Many students drinking around campus.
The same activity as last year, with some different people, no doubt.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Is eating fish good or not?

That grammatically simple question is anything but when you consider the different understandings of the consequences of humans eating fish. Here I will consider three points-of-view: a medical POV, a risk assessment POV, and an ecologist POV.

Many times the justification for eating fish comes to the benefits of Omega-3 fatty acids. Doing a simple search on the PhysOrg website for “omega-3” yields twenty-two still-accessible news stories about this or that finding about the benefits of this fishy fatty acid:
  • Help prevent medical complications due to obesity (Feb 12, 2009);
  • Minimize menopause depression (Jan 28, 2009);
  • Good with wine (Dec 4, 2008);
  • Lower rates of eye disease (Jun 9, 2008);
  • Protects against Parkinson’s Disease (Nov 26, 2007);
and so on…

Furthermore, studies in the medical literature also point out that North American diets are low in Omega-3 fatty acids, so… since they are so useful to us, we should eat more of it, and one easy way is to eat fish. Okay. I get it. You get it. A three-year-old can get it. However, the medical POV isn’t the only one around.

Over the past several decades, we have learned that there are different types of chemical compounds in our environment, some natural, others man-made. Some of these (mainly metallic compounds) are nasty, but don’t accumulate in the food chain (with the major exception of mercury, which – when methylated – has this nasty habit of bioaccumulating). Others (mainly hydrophobic nonmetallic compounds) are not only nasty, but bioaccumulate in the foodchain. The problem with bioaccumulation is that an organism absorbs the toxin at a rate greater than that in which the toxin is lost. Applying this principle to a food web/chain concept, an organism absorbing toxins is usually ingesting organisms at a lower trophic level (i.e., at a lower level on the food chain). Therefore, bioaccumulation leads to biomagnifications of a toxin as one climbs the foodchain to … you guessed it: FISH! What’s more, all those tasty fishes we human cultures are so amenable to gobbling up like there's no tomorrow (like tuna and cod) tend to be near the top of the food chain. (There are dangers of eating generalists like catfish and carp, but I won’t get into those here…) So what does that mean? Well, from a risk assessment POV, if you are catching fishes in polluted waters – or catching top-of-the-food-chain fishes who spend time in polluted waters (because, hey, fish swim around) – chances are increased that you will increase your ingestion of bioaccumulative biomagnified substances, like methylated mercury, PCBs, etc. These substances… which have medically been shown to be not good for you, leading to (among other things) retardation, immune disorders, gender-bending, and cancer. Well, so you can always just harvest the omega-3 fatty acids from fish, devoid of all those toxins that have bioaccumulated in the... oh, yeah. In the fatty tissue of fish...

But regardless of the touted medical benefits and the touted toxic risks, fishing is also a way in which man interacts with his environment. Indeed, some projections of harvest rates (against estimates of standing stock in the world's oceans) place economic extinction of fish species near the middle of this century (around 2042 if memory serves). What is the up-shot of this? Well, if you remove top-predators from a food chain, you have shifted the pressure to lower levels of the food chain. Since top predators have a direct impact on the number of lower-trophic animals (and those on still-lower trophic levels), the removal of a top predator (i.e., those fishes we love to eat due to their tasty pink-to-red flesh whose musculature is so suited for chasing down other fish and eating them) means that second-tier fish populations boom and crash, causing cascades of knock-on effects in a predator-controlled food chain. This leaves (basically) a system that doesn't function in a stabilizing manner. However, what is happening alongside these systems are the rather non-vertical foodchains of generalists (i.e., those fishes and alternate sea-life we don't really find that tasty). Since they do not suffer as greately from the loss of a top predator, their numbers increase beyond the ability of previously dominant food webs to manage (through marginalization, usually). In time - evolutionary timescales - these generalists will start to fill in niches that are left open by a loss in a predator-dominated foodweb. However, by the time this happens, humans are likely to be long past a stage that we would recognize them.

In the meantime, what do we have? We have doctors saying eat fish, because it's good for you (especially for pregnant women). We have risk assessors saying don't eat fish, because it's laced with toxins that are bad for you (especially for pregnant women). And we have ecologists saying don't eat fish, because it's leading to the worldwide collapse of fish stocks, meaning that the (possibly) toxin-fed babies carried by pregnant women today won't be able to have the benefits of fish the sea.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Willow cuttings

Ahhh.... I spent two hours cutting willows and setting them out to dry for eventual bonfire burning. After that, I spent about three hours setting down bricks to make pathways. My arms are as tired as they have ever been, including when I used to be a live-in aikido student in Denver during 1999-2000.

My forearms are ... bleaugh. My lower back is also tight. I think I will have to go to the Relax Station. (Possibly tomorrow...) Hmmm...

Anywho, here are some of the photos from my maintenance work today.
Clearing willow

Setting bricks as paving stones

Cutting willow

Yesterday I trimmed some of the willow near Third Sister Lake. Today I will finish it up. One statement about willow, though: it's a tenacious tree, and will grow in thicker each year. If it wasn't for the fact that its roots help hold down the bank, I would have tried to pull the roots... Photos coming of the results.

Of course, the anchoring ability of the trees is something that I wonder will help in shoring up the banks of the small creek that runs high every time there's rain or snowmelt... I'll have to talk with Bob Grese, who teaches methods in landscape restoration. (Maybe I can get him to come out here, too!)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On teaching about pseudoscience

Recently, when Richard Dawkins was invited to speak at Oklahoma University, that state's legislature decided that it would try and censure Prof. Dawkins by passing House Resolutions 1014 and 1015. Never mind that under the United States Constitution, the creation of such laws (called a 'bill of attainder') is not allowed, since the legislature of Oklahoma would have declared Dawkins guilty without a trial (which is still illegal).

Nevermind that Dawkins provided a well-reasoned and comedic eviseration of the resolutions:

there are still people who just don't want to listen to what the man says (this one says he is a biologist, doesn't ask a question, and walks out before he can hear the response; not one for open dialogue, I suppose):

In a recent post over at, the topic of Dawkins' lecture and the state house resolutions were discussed. One of the comments at the site:
Creationism and I.Design can be covered as just two theories and then discussed along with evolution. It can be done by presenting evidence and discussion that is NOT based on blind faith. We as a state probably have the most backward outlook and I bet there are people who think the earth is flat and that rapture and witches are all true.. But I see no reason a scientific mind cannot humor the faith based pseudoscientists. All you need is to say some people believe Creationism is science and that it is a theory with not many evidentiary trails. Same goes for I.Design. NO need to be afraid of alternates because ignorance abound in our state. Afterall we are not very high on college educated percentages.
raised an interesting point in my mind. Why not teach a science course on how to detect good and bad science? Why not force university students to think critically upon various different types of scientific and pseudoscientific endeavors and discover what science really is and what it isn't. Don't forget to include pseudoscience from not just the US, but from around the world; not just with regard to contemporary topics like intelligent design, but also include historical debunking like phrenology; and not just with regard to Christian-based pseudoscience like creationism, but also those related to other religions like the sanctity of the waters of the Ganges River.

By having students learn about the framework of what science is and what it is not; what scientific evidence needs and needs to show; and what the implications are between dogmatic faith and deductive (and inductive) reasoning, you circumvent the sticky issue of forcing people to confront an apparent conflict-of-faith (creationism's pseudoscientific nature). What will (hopefully) happen is that you provide students with a methodology of defining and determining the quality of what is a science framework and challenge them to apply that framework to what they see around them and read about.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Advertising and belief

So I'm watching some shows on Hulu, and one thing that comes across my mind is the question, "Why is this advertisement on?" (Hulu plays a single 15-30 second advertisement during a show's normal commercial breaks.) I didn't ask because it seemed to me that the ad was not suited to people who might watch the show, rather, I asked because I (like to think) that I am not one who is so easily swayed by advertisement (unless I'm tired, and then I recognize that I'm drawn to advertisements).

So that got me metathinking during a Grey Goose ad, and it made me hypothesize the following: People who have a logical mind are less likely swayed by advertisement. Then I thought of a way of testing this - if I was so inclined, and had equipment. Find people who have rationalized themselves away from religious faith, since many arguments from logic find religious faith based either on false logic or a suspension of logic. Then run brain scans on these people and those who are zealously faithful. Compare the differences when they are each watching ads.

It sounds weird, but then again, at the worst if it doesn't work, then it will just prove me wrong. However, if it does show something, then it says a major thing about the human mind.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Clearing fallen trees

Just cleared a bunch of fallen trees on the property. That was vigorous and fun work. Many of the fallen trees were over one foot in diameter, and some of them were soggy with snowmelt, making the cutting difficult and the moving-out-of-the-way also difficult.

It started off somewhat annoyingly -- I'll admit that I didn't remember how to prime the chainsaw prior to it starting, but after a few minutes of fiddling, I figured it out. The previous caretakers told me that they had changed the chain prior to leaving, and the thing did cut like a hot knife through butter.

If I do end up getting a stove put in, then I am definitely up for doing more of that chainsawing. (Of course, I say that now... who knows what the future holds. Would I say that in September and October, when I have to start collecting the wood to burn during the winter? We'll see. If the school OKs the installation of a stove, of course.)

The yokel of slavery

I just heard one of the Detroit councilwomen say that the Indians threw off the "yokel of slavery" of the British.

I wonder where that slavery-yokel came from in Britain... (Or if Britain instituted slavery in India while they were colonialists.)

UPDATE:  Thanks to the anonymous commenter who has informed me that the councilwoman was Monica Conyers.

Writing poetry

I have recently been thinking the poetry that I have written over the past number of years, and I have realized that I have been very lax in the amount of poetry that I have written in recent years:
Why am I going back to an interest in poetry? Well in my recent studying of Spanish and my trips to Chile, I was introduced to Pablo Neruda's poetry. Of course, with any new language, one has to trust the translator to some level while simultaneously wanting to learn the language enough to fully appreciate the full meaning of the poem.

One thing about language is that words don't have the same nuance meaning or associated image in one language to another. This idea was captures very well up by Lydia Davis in her short story "French Lesson I: Le Meurtre" in Break it Down:
"A French arbre is not the elm or maple shading the main street of our New England towns in the infinitely long, hot and listless, vacant summer of our childhoods, which are themselves different from the childhoods of French children, and if you see a Frenchman standing on a street in a small town in American pointinig to an elm or maple and calling it an arbre, you will know this is wrong. An arbre is a plane tree in an ancient town aquared with lopped, stubby branches and patchy, leprous bark standing in a row of similar plane trees across from the town hall, in front of which a bicycle ridden by a man with thich, reddish skin and and old cap wavers past and turns into a narrow lane. ... An arbre can also caset a pleasant shade and keep la maison cool in the summer, but remember that la maison is not wood-framed with a widow's walk and a wide front porch but is laid out on a north-south axis, is built of irregular, sand-colored blocks of stone, and has a red tile roof, small square windows with green shutters, and no windows on the north side, which is also protected from the wind by a closely planted line of cypresses, while a pretty mulberry or olive may shade the south. ..."
Therefore, if I read a Neruda poem, like "Agua Sexual", the image created in my mind with the translated lines: 
"Rolling down in big and distinct drops,
in drops like teeth,
in heavy drops like marmalade and blood."
is very vivid, painting pictures in my mind and sensations at my fingertips. However, are these the images and sensations the poet wanted to evoke when he wrote in Spanish:
"Rodando a goterones solos,
a gotas como dientes,
a espesos goterones de mermelada y sangre," 
So what does this have to do with my writing? Well, I want to use this re-sparked interest in poetry to help me with learning and writing Spanish (and since Neruda wrote a lot about water, this is something that I can associate myself with emotionally).

Chimney issues

Well, the people came to check on my chimney and look at the possibility of putting in a wood-burning stove. As I thought, there was creosote in there, and they suggest not using the fire place until it gets cleaned. (Turns out that today was a check-in, and not a cleaning.)

Hopefully I will be able to get a wood-burning stove, since such a stove would allow me to use the plentiful amount of wood surrounding me and take off the burden from the gas furnace which is not the most efficient way of heating this place.

However, due to the relatively slow turnaround on payment from the University of Michigan, this might take a little while to pass through (assuming that the powers-that-be agree that this is a good thing to do).

Photo of the cabin

Where I live now (little house in a small woods).